Defence and National Security – South Australia’s Strategic Position

Defence and National Security South Australias Strategic Position

Each new Australian government seeks to put its stamp on defence policy, including through a new Defence White Paper.

The DSR outlines two force structure determinants: ‘deter and defeat armed attacks on Australia’ and ‘contribute to stability in the South Pacific and Timor Leste’.

These are important tasks, but the DSR does not address a broader range of security challenges.

Threats and Challenges

South Australia has long been aware of the need to protect itself from a world of complex and interwoven threats. They are a mix of high-end military capabilities, economic coercion, climate change and dangers to democracy in a post-truth age. They are a challenge to the international system of law, open markets and free trade that successive Australian governments have contributed so much to building.

The challenge of managing a world where it is no longer possible to simply count on the tyranny of distance or rely exclusively on the US is a key one. Australia will also have to recognise that it can no longer relegate China to being a mere competitor in its own backyard. This will require a more sophisticated approach to dealing with China that is competitive where it should be and collaborative where that can be done, but that is not adversarial when it needs to be.

At the same time, we need to prepare ourselves for a new kind of warfare in which grey zone activities are a more significant threat than the direct actions of states which led to the first world war. These include cyber attack, the use of weapons of mass destruction or cyber warfare, the smuggling of arms and the illegal trafficking in migrants. The 2020 Defence Strategic Update identified that this sort of activity can be driven by authoritarian regimes seeking to re-shape the global rules-based order.

Australia’s defence review team has a massive task ahead of them. They should be given the latitude to challenge extant structures, basing and technologies, and should oversee changes at a fast pace. They won’t get everything right but they should do their best to set a direction for the force that is suited to the era we are living in.

A key aspect of this will be to ensure that defence leadership has the right mindset to move from procurement programs that look out 10 years or more to ones that can deliver in the next three to five years. This is a shift from the processes which were perfect for the slow, low-tech world of the 1990s to the rapidly changing world in which we are living. The minister must foster an appetite for risk tolerance and a culture of learning from failure to help the defence force respond to these radically different challenges.

Defence Capabilities

The emergence of a global multipolar security order is creating new opportunities for Australia and South Australian defence companies. With large scale projects, world-class innovation and strong export opportunities, South Australia is well positioned for defence growth and diversification.

South Australia’s longstanding presence in the defence industry, world-leading research capability and access to prime contractors make it a natural home for advanced defence technology development. With a focus on growing defence-relevant areas, such as cyber security, space technologies and autonomous systems, the state is well positioned to support Defence’s future capabilities.

In addition to the Defence Science and Technology Group, RAAF Base Edinburgh and a significant number of major defence businesses, the state has a comprehensive network of universities, research centres and institutes, supporting defence-related invention, development and commercialisation. This includes the Australian Defence Science and Universities Network (ADSUN), led by DSTG, that fosters Defence engagement and cooperation with the national innovation ecosystem.

This network also supports the creation of defence-related jobs and career pathways in South Australia. It provides opportunities to attract and retain talented people from the wider economy, particularly those with VET qualifications, and to attract higher education graduates and postgraduates into the field.

Defence’s strategic imperatives drive a demand for new and better military capabilities, including the need to deter adversaries and protect trade routes and communications. This is why the Albanese Government has made strategic acquisitions, including a new submarine, aircraft carrier and advanced warship, as well as investing in a range of innovative new technologies.

These investments will ensure that the state continues to deliver on its promise as Australia’s Defence State. The state will continue to provide the country’s most sophisticated naval shipbuilding enterprise, as well as continuing to build the country’s long-range strategic strike capabilities, and advancing our defence capabilities in areas such as autonomous systems, information communications technology, and advanced manufacturing and electronics.

Security Cooperation

South Australia is a regional centre for defence technology and has a strong base of industry, research institutions, and government agencies working in defence-related areas. These include the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI), and the CSIRO. Several Defence companies have operations in South Australia, including BAE Systems and Lockheed Martin. The state is also home to the headquarters of the Australia-India Strategic Partnership, as well as a range of international defence conferences and exercises.

The Australia-India Strategic Partnership, which was launched in 2000, has evolved into one of the most promising informal security arrangements operating in the Asia Pacific. The two countries cooperate closely both bilaterally and via regional fora, such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue. This collaboration reflects shared concerns over China’s growing assertiveness, territorial revisionism, and erosion of norms; and the need to strengthen regional information sharing, maritime security, counterterrorism, and disaster response.

Australia-Japan cooperation is likewise strengthening, with the three countries regularly conducting joint training and engaging in high-level dialogues. They have also worked together in responses to global crises, including the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the relief efforts following the 2013 Japan earthquake and tsunami.

South Australia’s strong and growing links with India reflect the countries’ common interests in promoting regional stability and the growth of a freer, fairer, and more prosperous Indo-Pacific. Nonetheless, these ties remain complicated by differing functional priorities, including India’s concern about China’s rise and its desire to maintain its nuclear parity with the United States; differences over Pakistan and Kashmir; and fraught or absent people-to-people engagement.

In recent years, however, the pace of bilateral defense engagement between Australia and India has picked up. This accelerated in 2006 and again after 2014, reflecting changing strategic circumstances and political leaderships in both countries. The two nations have now developed an extensive and complex range of military-to-military bilateral engagements, ranging from high-level policy dialogue to sophisticated bilateral naval exercises and a nascent defence technology cooperation. These activities are complemented by increased cooperation in multilateral fora, such as the Quadrilateral Defence Ministers’ Meeting.

Defence Industry

Increasing global instability and new military technologies are fuelling demand for defence equipment, services and capabilities. The state is positioned as the national leader in many key areas, including advanced space technology, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence. South Australia’s global supply chain, access to prime contractors, and world-class research facilities make it a prime location for the defence industry.

South Australian businesses are partnering with global defence organisations to create high-value jobs. A strong and growing defence sector contributes more than $10 billion to the state’s economy. The state government works closely with industry to support, promote and accelerate defence investments and export opportunities. It also supports the development of state-of-the-art infrastructure and a highly skilled workforce.

The state’s leading defence companies have a wide range of products and services to offer, from large scale shipbuilding and land force projects to specialist engineering, science, IT, and cyber security services. Many of these companies have operations in South Australia, supporting around 6,500 jobs. This includes the construction of Australia’s new fleet of nuclear-powered submarines, which will deliver about 5,500 jobs to the state by 20 or 30 years.

Premier Peter Malinauskas says the state is working hard to ensure the state’s high-value skills are used by major defence projects in Australia. This includes the work being done to recruit, train and qualify a new generation of tradespeople, as well as to improve the quality of STEM education in schools.

Defence SA’s latest strategy, Defence 4.0, is designed to position the state as the national leader in innovation as it accelerates defence investment and creates more high-tech jobs. The strategy outlines how the state can build on the significant economic and employment benefits of Defence projects by positioning itself as a leader in key areas of capability and creating strong export opportunities.

The state is investing in the future of Australia’s defence industry with programs such as the Sovereign Industrial Capability Priority Grant and Joint Strike Fighter Industry Support Program – Sustainment Grant. These grants provide funding of up to $1 million for projects that meet Defence’s requirements. The government also facilitates the export of defence and dual-use goods, software and technology in accordance with Australia’s export controls laws.